Ever since the beginning of the rock era, there have been compilations. As we mentioned in our very first special feature on The Album, long playing vinyl albums were simply a collection of songs, maximized for sales potential, and were rarely a cohesive or artistic statement. Once the “classic era” albums come into prominence in the mid to late sixties, “Greatest Hits” or “Best of” collections stepped in to supplement regular album releases as well as reach out to audience segments who only wished to “sample” a certain artist’s output.
Other such sales tools, such as rarities or B-side collections, targeted the most enthusiastic of existing fans but at time have gained significant popularity. In some cases, greatest hits collections were continued as an artist’s career went along. Bob Dylan had three sequential compilation. Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, released in March 1967, contains some of the most famous songs from Dylan’s formative years. In 1971 the double LP Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Volume II contained some songs from the interim years along with more from the early years and nearly a side of previously unreleased material. More than two decades later, Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Volume III encompassed all his recordings released between the years 1973 and 1991. The Eagles released a couple of sequential “Greatest Hits” collections with their 1976 compilation Eagles Greatest Hits, Volume 1 going on to become the top selling album of the 20th century.
Usually made up of three or more discs boxes, box sets came of age in the 1980s with the media migration from vinyl LPs to compact discs. Artists with long and successful careers would release anthologies which often included rare or previously unreleased tracks along with the typical collection of singles and radio hits. There have been rare cases where a box set contained all new and original material. Led Zeppelin’s initial 1990 Box Set became the first to become a best seller on the albums chart.
Around the turn of the century, some box sets became multimedia collections. These included DVD videos, mp3 discs, or other related items to enhance the collection
Compilations in 1988
With our current look at the rock year 1988, Classic Rock Review will also focus on the compilations and box sets released during that year, a rich year for these items.
Released on March 7, 1988 to coincide with the official CD debut of Beatles album catalogue, Past Masters is a two-volume compilation set. This collection consisted of many of the band’s non-album singles and B-sides, focusing on tracks not available on The Beatles’ original U.K. albums. These also included rarities such as the UK-only Long Tall Sally EP, two German language tracks, and a couple of songs recorded for charity compilation albums. An all-mono compilation titled Mono Masters was also produced for the most die-hard collectors.
20 Years of Jethro Tull was released on June 27, 1988 was issued as five themed LPs named; Radio Archives, Rare Tracks, Flawed Gems, Other Sides of Tull, and The Essential Tull. It was also simultaneously released as a three CD set and a five-cassette set, with each coming with a 24-page booklet.
Released in April 1988, Eric Clapton’s Crossroads includes highlights from his work with vast musical groups. These include The Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Blues Breakers, Cream, Blind Faith, Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, Derek & the Dominos, and his long solo career. The collection was released as setsof four CDs or six LPs and it includes several live and alternate studio recordings which were previously unreleased.
Two compilations were released on November 15, 1988. After shocking the world with their recent breakup, Journey released Greatest Hits, which ultimately became the band’s best-selling album by selling over 25 million copies and it spent over 760 weeks on the pop album charts, more than any other compilation album in history. Smashes, Thrashes & Hits was actually the third “hits” album released by Kiss. With most tracks coming from their heyday in the seventies, this album also included two new songs.
In subsequent years and decades, artists brought the box set concept to the extreme with full collections being released. But by the time mp3s and other digital formats became the dominant media, user-driven custom compilations were the order of the day.
On the brink of mainstream success, glam rock band Kiss set out to create a serious studio album by enlisting Alice Cooper’s producer Bob Ezrin. In producing the band’s fourth album, Destroyer, Ezrin added richer production and instrumentation with some outside musicians to the band’s base, party-rock sound. As none of the band members had any formal musical training or knew much musical theory, Ezrin ran the sessions like a classroom, explaining theory along the way and scolding any band member who deviated from specific directions, something Kiss would later refer to as “musical boot camp”. The result was the most successful album to date, following the modest success of the the first three studio albums, and the launching of Kiss into super-stardom through the late 1970s and beyond.
The group was formed in 1972, when guitarist/vocalist Paul Stanley and bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons stumbled upon an Ad placed by veteran New York drummer Peter Criss. Criss had previously played in a band called “Lips”, to which Stanley evolved into the name “Kiss”. Starting as a trio, the group played hard rock covers and eventually injected original material as well as their trademark stage costumes. After three studio albums with modest success, Kiss released a very successful live album in late 1975 called Alive!, which sought to capture the live energy of their concerts.
For the production of Destroyer, rather than try to recreate a concert setting on this studio album, Ezrin went the opposite route and made what is perhaps the most experimental album in the Kiss catalog. Not everyone was on board with this, as lead guitarist Ace Frehley (who joined the group as a fourth member in 1974) caused much friction to the point where he was threatened to be replaced and then relented. Virtually no one was on board with the inclusion of the orchestra to back “Beth”, with the exception of Criss, who wrote song and sang lead. This song, of course became a smash hit for the band and opened up their music to whole new audiences.
Released: March 15, 1976 (Casablanca) Produced by: Bob Ezrin Recorded: Electric Lady & Record Plant, New York, Sep 1975- Feb 1976
Detroit Rock City
King of the Night Time World
God of Thunder
Shout It Out Loud
Do You Love Me?
Rock and Roll Party
Paul Stanley – Rhythm Guitars, Vocals Ace Frehley – Lead Guitars, Vocals Gene Simmons – Bass, Vocals Peter Criss – Drums, Percussion, Vocals
The album’s opener, “Detroit Rock City” includes news reports and other sound effects overlaying a hard rock song with dramatic lyrics written by Stanley and inspired by a real life story where a fan was killed in a car crash while hurrying to get to a Kiss concert. “King Of the Night” follows, but is of far less quality, almost a caricature of a pretentious rock song by players with minimal skill. “God Of Thunder” features vocals by Simmons and over the years came to be known as his theme song, even though it was actually written by Stanley.
One can definitely hear the Alice Cooper influence on “Great Expectations”, which uses a Beethoven piece in the intro before breaking into a decent but haunting rock song. “Flaming Youth” is a piece orchestrated by Ezrin from three separate songs written by Frehley, Simmons, and Stanley. Alice Cooper guitarist Dick Wagner played the guitar lead on this track as well as on “Sweet Pain”, another mediocre, formulaic song that opens the album’s second side.
“Shout It Out Loud” was strongly influenced by the band’s label Casablanca Records, who insisted that the band create another “rock anthem” in the same vein as “Rock and Roll All Nite” from the previous album. While the song was popular and eventually became a regular concert staple on the oldies circuit, it was not nearly as successful as its predecessor.
Peter Criss’s “Beth” was written several years earlier when he was in the band Chelsea, with the lyrics coming nearly verbatim from a bandmate’s phone conversation with a clingy girlfriend (who he called “Beck”, short for Becky) as the band was rehearsing. Criss was the only band member to actual perform in the song, singing with his raspy voice which strongly contrasted the piano and strings by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, which Ezrin brought in to back the track. “Beth” was originally the B-side of the “Detroit Rock City” and later released as a single of its own, peaking at #7 on the Billboard singles chart in September 1976, the group’s first Top 10 song. It was a last-minute addition to the album as Simmons and Stanley strongly objected because it was not a typical Kiss song.
“Do You Love Me?” is the last real song on the album with an almost hip-hop drum beat, funky bass, and a good guitar during the bridge. The lyrics question how much adoration is for the man versus the rock star in the situations the band members were starting to experience. It also acts as a bit of a prediction as stardom was just starting to befall the New York band behind the white makeup.
In less than a year following Destroyer, two more highly successful studio albums were released, Rock and Roll Over in November 1976, and Love Gun in 1977. This was followed by a second popular live album (Alive II) and a whole plethora of touring, marketing and media successes that made Kiss one of the top earning bands of the decade.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1976 albums.
We pretty much cover studio albums exclusively at Classic Rock Review and will continue to do so with the exception of the few studio/live hybrids that we explore later in this article. The reason we do this is because of the generally ubiquitous nature of these live albums as well as the inconsistency in sound and the art of production. In short, we feel the only true way to hear a band live is to hear a band live and we’ll stick to that whole other entertainment art form, the studio album. However, this surely does not mean that the live album has now place in the world of classic rock. So today we will examine some of the more important live albums through time, with a special look at 1976, the current year we are reviewing with our regular features and one year that was especially rich with quality live albums.
The Classic Live Albums
Ever since Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 there have been live recordings, starting with the the first commercially available music recordings in the 1880s. All recordings were “live”, whether in a studio or concert hall for about 70 years until the 1950s when the first multi track recordings began. But it wasn’t really until 1960s when the true distinction of a live album was made. Although rock n’ roll would be the genre most strongly tied to the live album, two of the most influential recordings came from artists tied mainly to other styles, James Brown and Johnny Cash.
Live At the Apollo was recorded on October 24, 1962 at the famed theatre in Harlem, New York and released the following year. It was produced at Brown’s expense when his record label opposed the concept of recording an album full of live versions of songs which had already been released. To everyone’s surprise, Live At the Apollo sold rapidly and spent more than a year on the Billboard Pop Albums chart. It was so popular that many radio DJs began playing the album in its entirety, only pausing for commercials during the side break.
Johnny Cash met much of the same resistance from his own record label when he proposed recording an album live at the prison he made famous over a decade earlier with his song “Folsom Prison Blues”. The album was recorded at the state prison in California during two shows on the morning and afternoon of January 10, 1968 and released later that year. Cash was supported in this project by his future wife June Carter, his backing band The Tennessee Three, supporting act The Statler Brothers, as well as then-California Governor Ronald Reagan, but with little investment by Columbia records. Nonetheless, the album still rocketed to number one on the Country Charts and the top twenty on the mainstream charts. Further, the album revitalized Cash’s career and lead to his producing a second prison album, At San Quentin.
A third mega-successful live album from the recordings in the 1960s was the Woodstock soundtrack, a 6-sided triple album released on May 11, 1970. The album was unique at the time not only because of the variety of performers (18 different artists performed on the original version), but also for its “feel” as just about each track contained stage announcements and conversations among the musicians, which acted as a narrator of the overall Woodstock story. The original LP was also laid out with side one backed with side six, side two backed with side five, and side three backed with side four, to accommodate the popular record changer turntables, something which would become standard for most multi-disk live albums.
Starting in 1970, a prolific period of several top-notch live recordings began. That year featured many great live albums such as Live At Leeds by The Who, Absolutely Live by The Doors, Band of Gypsys by Jimi Hendrix, and Mad Dogs and Englishmen by Joe Cocker, which had sales fueled by his impressive performance on the the a fore-mentioned Woodstock soundtrack. Subsequent years saw more classic live recordings such as At Filmore East by the Allman Brothers in 1971, Made In Japan by Deep Purple in 1972, Yessongs by Yes in 1973, Alive by Kiss in 1975, along with a couple of original live recordings by the Grateful Dead.
As the golden age of live albums started to wane in the late seventies and early eighties, the quality live albums were fewer and further between. In 1978 Aerosmith released the fine Live Bootleg while the newcomers Cheap Trick released At Budokan. The Eagles finished off their remarkable career with Eagles Live in 1980 while another band with a long career capitalized on their new found fame with Showtime! in 1982. The following year, U2 displayed their talents on Under a Blood Red Sky.
The great live album that never was should have been released following the plethora of great performances at Live Aid in 1985. No tradition “album” was released from these performances with a four DVD set finally coming out in 2004.
Live Albums in 1976
At this articles date of publication, the year the Classic Rock Review is examining is 1976, which also happened to be a very strong year for live recordings. In fact, the deliberation on whether to cover some these live albums with regular reviews is what initially sparked the idea for this special feature. So we’ll give a little bit of special attention to some of the great live albums from the bicentennial year.
Frampton Comes Alive! by Peter Frampton
Released January 6, 1976 (Double LP)
Perhaps one of the most successful commercial live albums ever, Frampton Comes Alive! was a double live that sold at a price comparable to “single” albums of the day. This marketing scheme may have incentivized fans to check out this artist whose previous four solo albums had little commercial success, but it was the quality of the material and performance that created the snowball effect making this a true breakthrough for Frampton.
Robin Tower Live by Robin Tower
Released March 3, 1976 (Single LP)
Recorded in Sweden over a year before its release, this album by a true power trio lead by the former axeman of Procol Harum captures the group extremely loose and freewheeling. This is because the shows were recorded by the Swedish Broadcasting Company while the band was completely unaware that the show was being taped.
Live Bullet by Bob Segar
Released April 12, 1976 (Double LP)
Live Bullet forecast the popular rise of Bob Seger by first becoming a staple on Detroit rock radio and later reaching a much further audience due to some of the timeless classics on the album. Although Seger’s success was still mainly regional, this album played a large role in him headlining before 78,000 at the Pontiac Silverdome in June 1976.
One More From the Road by Lynard Skynard
Released September 13, 1976 (Double LP)
This was Lynard Skynard’s first, and sadly last live album during the “classic” era of the band, which ended with a plane crash in 1977 that killed several members. The version of “Freebird” propelled that then-five-year-old song into FM radio super status for decades to come.
The Song Remains the Same by Led Zeppelin
Released September 28, 1976 (Double LP)
Led Zeppelin was a fantastic live act, as we later found out from the various bootlegs and eventual collections released in the 1990s and 2000s. Unfortunately, the band’s only concerted effort at capturing the live magic was done during a couple of sub-par shows at the end of their 1973 tour. Producer Jimmy Page and the band spent three years overdubbing and patching in both audio and video for the dual film and soundtrack. It was great because it was Zeppelin live and it was all we had for decades. But it could have been so much greater.
All the World’s a Stage by Rush
Released September 29, 1976 (Double LP)
All the World’s a Stage was the first live album by Rush, marking the conclusion of the first four studio, one live album “phase” of the band. They would repeat this pattern several more times through their long career. The performances were recorded in June 1976 in the trio’s home city of Toronto.
Wings Over America by Wings
Released December 10, 1976 (Triple LP)
A decade after the Beatles stopped playing live gigs, fans finally got a chance to hear Paul McCartney perform live with his new band, Wings. Although the triple album was made up mostly of songs from McCartney’s post-Beatles career, Wings Over America did offer five Beatles songs becoming the most modern recordings to date of these compositions.
Through the years there were a select number of albums which contained a hybrid of live and recorded material. These include Cream‘s Wheels Of Fire from 1968, Pink Floyd‘s Ummagumma from 1969, Eat a Peach by the Allman Brothers and Everybody’s In Showbiz by The Kinks from 1972, and Rust Never Sleeps by Neil Young & Crazy Horse in 1979. Classic Rock Review may review these as regular albums when the time comes.
Ironically, as more and more live albums proliferated through the 1990s their prestige seemed to wane and fewer and fewer were considered “classic” recordings. This is likely due to the relative simplicity of digital recordings and hence the less capturing of “lightning in a bottle” with live performances. Still, we’ve only just scratched the surface of all the fine live albums through the decades, so please feel free to comment on some of these omissions.